Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. My employee is bad at taking feedback
I have a new employee who's very organized and ambitious and generally competent, but she is terrible at receiving feedback.
Having read your column for a while, I've tried to incorporate your advice. I'll say things like "I've noticed you've been doing this X way, but we actually do it Y way for A, B, and C reasons. It's not a big deal at all, just something to keep an eye on." And her response will usually be a long, detailed explanation about why she did it the way she did, followed by a reason why her way is better, but then also, often, a thank-you for the feedback. I suspect that what I perceive as defensiveness on her part is actually overeagerness to show that she's trying really hard. But, honestly, it's not a good use of my time to entertain these long-winded explanations, and I don't know how much she's absorbing the critiques and advice that I'm giving. Is there a way to head off the prickliness without making her feel more insecure?
Try this: "When I give you feedback about doing something a different way, I get the sense that you might feel obligated to explain why you did it differently originally. You don't need to do that -- I'd rather we focus our time on making sure that you understand the feedback I'm giving and are able to incorporate it going forward." Or you can just interrupt her and say, "Sorry to interrupt you, but I want to jump in here -- you don't need to explain your thinking here! I'm sure that you had good reasons for approaching it that way and you don't need to justify that to me. I just wanted to convey that we do it X way instead so that you know for the future."
If it still keeps happening after that: "I know you want to explain why you did it differently, but it's not a good use of our time to go so heavily into that -- and when you do that it can come across as resistance to the feedback I'm giving and makes it hard for me to know how much you're absorbing my input."
2. Telling a friend I don't want to work for her
I have a dilemma with a friend and former colleague, Belinda. We used to work together, but she has since moved on to a different company. We have maintained a friendship and a shared professional network since she moved on.
Belinda was recently promoted and is looking to hire someone to fill her former role. She has told me that the expanded job description is basically written for me to be the perfect candidate. She says I would be a perfect fit, they want to hire me for it, and I should apply when it's posted in two weeks.
The problem is I don't want to work for Belinda. She's a good friend but a bad manager. I know our personalities would clash in a manager-employee relationship. I am pretty sure it would ruin our friendship.
How do I let her down softly? Jobs like this rarely open in our local industry; I would likely have to move to find something similar anytime soon. I don't feel like there's any way to say "thanks, but no thanks" without it being too obvious that the problem is her.
Blame it on the friendship! Lots of people deliberately choose not to work for friends, because it can ruin the friendship. Say something like this: "I really appreciate your suggesting this, but I've given it a lot of thought and I've decided not to apply. I value our friendship, and I know it would have to change if I was working for you. It sounds like a great job, though, and I know you'll find someone perfect for it."
If she pushes you to reconsider and tells you that your fears are unnecessary, say something like, "I've seen it go wrong too many times, and I don't want to risk it." Or even just, "Thank you -- I'm flattered, but this is the right choice for me."
3. Should I tell a rejected candidate that their parent protested our hiring decision?
I recently rejected a candidate who wasn't a good fit for the position for a variety of reasons. They responded with an email debating our decision (in a tone that validated we made the right call), and the next day their parent also sent an email debating my decision.
In this situation, would you give the applicant a heads-up that this happened? Given their response, I wouldn't be surprised if the parental interference was requested, but it just comes off as so wildly unprofessional it's really soured us on a person who was good but not great and turned them into a never-ever. What do you think?
Nah, I wouldn't bother. This candidate already sent you an email debating your decision in a rude tone. That means that (a) the chances that they'll respond well to this heads-up are significantly lower than with a polite, professional candidate, and (b) there's no incentive here for you to go out of your way to try to do them a favor.
And, geez, I guess we can see where the candidate got this from.
4. My colleague gave all the women at work flowers for Mother's Day
I was hoping you could give your opinion on a situation that recently arose at work. My colleague Bob can be seen as a little nitpicky or overbearing, but he is generally a nice person and we get along well. Last week, for Mother's Day, he brought in a whole bunch of roses and was giving them to all the women at work. I'm not sure if he only gave them to the mothers--he did give one to me, and made a nice comment about how even though I am not a mother, I am still a wonderful woman and he knows that should I ever choose to have kids I would be a great mother, but I'm not sure if he did that for the other childless women.
Personally, I thought this was a really nice gesture that Bob didn't have to do. However, some of my colleagues were saying that it was overbearing, inappropriate, and sexist. I feel as though because they think Bob is overbearing to begin with, they are seeing this gift in a negative way, when it really seems to be just a nice thought. What do you think?
I shuddered a little when reading this -- it's really inappropriate. Lots of women would find this overstepping, patronizing, inappropriate, and sexist. There's an implication there that motherhood is a calling everyone should aspire to, and it's awfully thoughtless toward people who may be struggling with infertility, have recently miscarried, or have zero interest in having kids and don't appreciate society treating them as if childbearing should be their default, or who just don't want their boss treating them in a gendered way. It's just ... ick.
And I'm betting that he's not planning to give flowers to all the men in the office on Father's Day -- not that that would make this OK either, since it would still be overstepping and bringing gender into the office in a weird way -- but I bet that he's not, and that might make the sexism piece of this clearer.
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